4th Week of Easter (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula
I recently ran across an article about an upcoming gathering of Church dissidents in Detroit. They call themselves the American Catholic Council. Their agenda for Church reform is as predictable as it is destructive to the Body of Christ: give us women priests, openly gay/lesbian priests, popularly elected bishops, etc. Had this group met in the 16th century, historians now would call them by their proper name, Protestants. Given the religious freedom that Americans enjoy and the ease with which we can form religious associations, it beggars the mind to understand why these disaffected Catholics don't simply join the Episcopal Church. Regardless, what's interesting to me is the frequency with which these folks identify their radical agenda for the future of the Church with what they call “an adult faith,” or “an adult Church.” It's not entirely clear why they think that their version of the faith is more mature than the one given to us by the apostles, but it is clear that they see the apostolic faith as immature and oppressive. Setting aside for a moment that middle-class academics whining about being oppressed is the very definition of adolescent behavior, and setting aside for now questions about their motives and chances of success, let's ask a more fundamental question: what is an “adult faith”? When do we know that our beliefs and religious practices have matured into an adult spirituality worthy of our time and energy?
Jesus has just finished washing the feet of his students, demonstrating that he no longer considers them his students but his friends. He says to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” Here's the key to identifying a matured spirituality, an adult understanding of our relationship with God: you and I are not the masters of our faith; we do not control, direct, or in any way influence the truth of the gospel, nor do we have the authority or the power to change one letter of the Father's Self-revelation to His people. A teenager rages against The Machine b/c he believes that he is the center of reality, the locus around which all living things exist. He chooses what's Real and what's not. An adult long ago recognized that The Real is a given and that one's success or failure in life is judged against one's ability and willingness to accept that wishful-thinking, tantrums, and appeals to self-centered notions of justice can't alter truth. Jesus tells his newly minted friends that though they are no longer his students, they are still slaves to the Master, an eternal Master who loves them enough to give His only Son to death.
Spiritual maturity can never be about asserting control or demanding that one's “rights” be respected. Servants, faithful servants of the Church work tirelessly to make sure that every opened eye and ear sees and hears the central message of the gospel: you're sins are forgiven, receive God's mercy and live wholly in His love. Jesus tells his friends that if they understand the truth in what he is teaching them, “blessed are you if you do it.” Not just believe it or assent to it. But do it! Don't just believe that you are a servant. Serve. Don't just assent to the notion that you are blessed to be of service. Go out and act blessed. Go out and serve. Service does not include stamping your feet and whining about the need for structural change in the institutional Church, or demanding that Reality be altered to fit your fantasy-agenda. Jesus says, “. . .whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” We receive from the ones sent by Christ all that they received from him. We receive. We do not create or change or revolutionize or re-think what we have received. Instead, we pass it on. Whole and entire. We pass it on in mint condition so others can mature into an adult faith rooted in the apostolic faith.
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